The Holiday Movies that Made Us

TV review by
Marina Gordon, Common Sense Media
The Holiday Movies that Made Us TV Poster Image
Deep dive into two holiday movies is insightful, inspiring.

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age 9+
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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages
Positive Role Models

All the participants in both Elf and Nightmare Before Christmas are shown to be completely devoted to their projects. They resist corporate feedback and expectations that would have compromised the work. Both movies are considered classics now, outcomes that support the creators' decisions. Tim Burton, who conceived of The Nightmare Before Christmas and remained involved in production, reacted violently when he didn't like studio decisions.


We see some quick shots of violent behavior in references to James Caan's earlier roles in the Elf episode. In the Nightmare Before Christmas episode we learn that Tim Burton kicked a hole in a wall and raged later about one version of the movie's ending.


There's a romantic subplot between Buddy and Jovie in Elf.


Some words are bleeped in the show.


The Nightmare Before Christmas episode notes that the characters became popular toys and collectibles years after the movie was released. Both films are popular classics with some marketing.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

It's mentioned that the first screenwriter on Nightmare Before Christmas was let go because he had a cocaine problem (and didn't get anything written).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Holiday Movies That Made Us is a two-part series follows the same template as its predecessor, The Movies That Made Us, digging into the stories behind the two beloved holiday movies that were surprise classics: Elf and The Nightmare Before Christmas. The few curse words that crew and studio executives utter are bleeped out. Very quick shots of James Caan's violent behavior in other movies of his are shown, and we learn that Tim Burton kicked a hole in a wall out of frustration. The compromises, legal hurdles, and creative conflicts both movies faced may tarnish some of their magic for young viewers (or, more likely, bore them).

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Kid, 11 years old February 11, 2021

Awesome documentary has some rude content

The Holiday Movies that Made Us is a documentary about all the Christmas movies everyone adored and decided as a Christmas spectacular. No violence is in the sh... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE HOLIDAY MOVIES THAT MADE US, like its predecessor The Movies That Made Us, delves into popular movies (here Elf and The Nightmare Before Christmas) using interviews with creators and punctuated with clips from the movies. The cast doesn't appear; their "reactions" are conveyed through movie snippets in a usually amusing way. It's a fast-paced treasure trove of trivia, process details, and insights from the people who were closest to the movies.

Is it any good?

If your kid loves to do deep dives on their favorite movies to learn about the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes stories, and trivia, this two-episode show is a welcome gift any time of the year. The Holiday Movies That Made Us delves into the origins of two iconic titles -- Elf and The Nightmare Before Christmas -- that couldn't be more different in tone and style but share one quality: creators who didn't let go of their visions. Elf writer David Berenbaum was inspired by Rankin/Bass cartoons, particularly Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the father-son story at its core (his own father died when he was young). He ultimately found a champion in a junior New Line executive who brought in then-untested Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf and novice director Jon Favreau -- now one of the most successful directors around -- who got Berenbaum's vision from the start. Learning how certain scenes and shots came together makes watching the movie even more delightful --look in particular for the section on using forced perspective and the details about shooting in New York.

Most people probably think that The Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Tim Burton; after all, it was marketed it as Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas. But though the characters and aesthetic started with Burton when he was an animator and artist at Disney, he relinquished the director title to fellow Disney alum Henry Selick. Though the production had its challenges (the first scriptwriter was fired, Burton kicked a hole in the wall), the movie's unlikely ascent to "classic" status is a fascinating story that has its roots in the dedication of everyone involved -- "200 artist misfits" -- to create the first stop-motion feature film.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the setbacks each production faced and whether it matters how the creators overcame them. Do you think  if these things were not resolved the end product would have been as well-received? 

  • The Nightmare Before Christmas was originally released by Touchstone because Disney decided it wasn't for kids. What do you think goes into such a decision? What makes a movie "for kids"?

  • What are some of your other favorite holiday movies or TV specials? Do you know the backstory of any other film faves?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love holiday movies

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